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A Bite-Sized History of France by Stéphane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell : deliciously fascinating

This book is deliciously fascinating. What better way to learn about a country’s history than by being introduced to it around a certain food item, such as artichokes, wine or cheese. The author explains how politics, economics and culture link with food in ‘foodways’, which reveal a great deal about a country. We discover many such foodways in this book.

The book is like a plate of nibbles – bite-sized chunks of history and food at a time. We learn about Gauls as the same time as wine, Barbarians and table manners, The Battles of Tours and Poitiers and goat cheese, Charlemagne and honey, Viking invasions and Bénédictine liqueur, feudalism and diet, the Crusades and plums, Eleanor of Aquitaine and claret, Cathars and vegetarianism, taxes and seasalt, the Black Prince and cassoulet, the plague and vinegar, Charles the Mad and Roquefort, the Renaissance and oranges, colonisation and chocolate, sugar, forks and Catherine de Medici, chickens and King Henry IV… and that’s just for starters! Many other snippets of info are sprinkled like condiments over the main ingredients to pique our appetite. This really is a feast of a book.

Just as it’s hard to relinquish a plate a plate of moreish food, it’s very hard to put down the book once you’ve started reading. The author’s style is thoroughly engaging and enjoyable. He’s witty as well as wise, and you learn so much without realising it. He communicates so passionately and knowledgeably it’s hard not to be won over.

Like your favourite restaurant, this book is absolutely to be recommended.

The book is due out on 10 July 2018 from The New Press. My only quibble – it’s rather pricey. The Kindle edition is priced at €18.99 and the print copy at €24.24, which will surely affect its sales. This book has massive appeal but that price tag will put many purchasers off.    

This book

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Book Review: Endangered Eagle by Richard Carl Roth

This book describes itself as ‘a historical novel’. It entwines fact and fiction to create the story behind an attempt to assassinate Charles Lindbergh on a visit to Berlin. It’s been meticulously researched and the author enters into the spirit of the period and place he is portraying, namely 1930s Germany. For example, he uses the Germanic forms of names at their first appearance, and the German style of giving addresses to create a contemporary atmosphere. This is a nice touch, as is the list of translated words he offers and the very informative prologue that sets the scene superbly. The list of players is useful too. The author builds tension throughout the story and portrays tenderness and brutality equally convincingly.

However, the book is bitty. This arises largely from the switching between first and third person narrative which isn’t totally successful. Eighty-five chapters is a lot and the reader is jumping from one scene to another, sometimes too quickly. The author tends to write in short paragraphs too so there is a disjointed feel at times. It’s an ambitious and complicated novel which the author must be applauded for that and it’s obvious he has poured his heart and soul into his work. I feel this author’s forte is non-fiction although he is clearly imaginative. And I would like to see more character development.  There are a few typos but generally this is a well-planned and well-presented piece of writing from a promising author who is yet to find his preferred voice. It’s entertaining, educational and makes for very interesting, if slightly fidgety, reading.